Owner security

Samoan PM says Pacific can handle its own security issues

Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa speaks to members of the media during a joint press conference with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (not pictured) in Wellington, New Zealand, June 14, 2022 .REUTERS/Lucy Craymer

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WELLINGTON, June 17 (Reuters) – Security issues in the Pacific should and can be addressed by countries in the region, Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa said on Friday, adding that China remains an attractive economic partner. given its size.

China’s growing influence in the Pacific and the potential for militarization in small island nations scattered across the South Pacific have concerned neighboring Australia and New Zealand and their ally the United States.

“Everyone is interested in China – it’s a huge market, in terms of purchasing power etc.,” Mata’afa said in an interview with Reuters during an official visit to New Zealand. .

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China’s growing regional influence was highlighted after the Solomon Islands signed a security pact with Beijing earlier this year.

“We need, as a region, to address the (security) issue within the broader context of what we already have in place,” Mata’afa said, citing previous regional security agreements.

An upcoming meeting of Pacific Islands Forum leaders will discuss the need to do more on the security front so that other island nations do not feel they have to look outside the region, he said. she adds.

The Forum represents 18 island states spanning the three Pacific cultural and geographic groups of Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia, as well as Australia and New Zealand. Some members have diplomatic relations with Taiwan while most recognize Beijing.

Traditionally, Australia and New Zealand have been the main security and aid partners for island states, providing development and disaster aid and military assistance when needed.

Mata’afa said she understands the region is increasingly contested but that China has been around for a long time as a diplomatic and economic partner and “what I don’t like is if there has elements of racism in the speech”.

The region was no longer just part of the “blue Pacific” narrative, but had been encapsulated within the much larger Indo-Pacific and needed to have more voices, she said.

“Now America basically wants to come back. And that has also, I think, enhanced the role and function of Australia and New Zealand,” she said. “There is a whole shift in geopolitical arrangements.”

Mata’afa said for example that South Pacific countries were not consulted on the creation of AUKUS, a security grouping announced last year that includes Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. , and she felt they should have been.

In recent meetings, she said she asked New Zealand and Australian leaders whether, as Pacific countries, they kept their Pacific family in mind when discussing policy with countries such as the United States. United and China.

CLIMATE CHANGE

While the geopolitical competition was topical, Mata’afa said the biggest challenges facing the region were recovery from COVID-19 and broader health issues, as well as climate change.

“There is the immediate effect with the encroachment of rising seas and the erosion of coastlines…and the increased regularity now of natural disasters,” she said.

“Natural disasters have become quite a factor in the region’s development trajectory. You take a few steps forward, you get hit by a cyclone and it’s reversed.”

For Pacific nations, climate change has very real implications for sovereignty, as islands face the reality of shrinking or disappearing.

“Our land masses are such that we don’t have the luxury of moving to another part of the country,” she said.

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Reporting by Lucy Craymer; Editing by Michael Perry and Lincoln Feast.

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